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PAX Pix 2011, Part One: The Expo Hall

      

Welcome to the home of PAX Prime, the Washington State Convention Center in lovely Seattle, WA!

This was where we spent much of our weekend—attending panels, checking out the cosplayers, and going hands-on with upcoming games in the massive Expo Hall(s). Actually, we didn’t get to play as much as we liked, since the lines for popular titles, most memorably Star Wars: The Old Republic, were incredibly long. As with PAX East, panels were our main priority.

However, we did watch a lot of games being played, in all sorts of genres, and checking out the booths themselves was also enjoyable. The booth that was hardest to ignore was the one for FireFall. They were a major sponsor of the show this year by the looks of things; in addition to the huge booth, there was an animatronic display near the Expo Hall entrance (Prototype 2‘s booth was also in that area), FireFall branding on the PAX swag bag, ads on the escalators, and more. Clearly the goal of FireFall‘s publishers was to get the name and look of the game firmly entrenched in our minds. As for the game itself, I didn’t get to play it, but it looks like an MMO action game of some sort. It is also highly derivative in its aesthetics—even the logo is StarCraft-ish.

Bethesda’s booth was impressive as well, thanks to a large dragon that loomed over the area dedicated to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Bethesda also had some Prey 2 stuff as well as Rage in playable form. Save for some canned, stiff animation, Rage looks absolutely stunning, though I seriously doubt that my computer will be able to run it.

Although I didn’t see anything of the game itself, the BioShock Infinite display was marvelous, and the most unique thing I saw on the show floor. There were a few other standouts scattered about, including a plant-like thing for Rift, the inflatable Normandy hovering over Mass Effect 3, the secret society quiz terminals for The Secret World, and Sega’s Rise of Nightmares prison cell. For the Kinect version of Just Dance 3, Ubisoft had a simple stage, but dancing con-goers added the extra hook.

Some people tend to forget this, but geeky non-video games have a large presence at PAX as well. There were a lot of areas dedicated to board, pen-and-paper, and trading card gaming, including a whole branch of the Expo Hall. Publishers of such games had their own booths, plus there were a handful of booths selling games, gaming accessories such as dice, and even dedicated pieces of gaming and collection furniture.

Other vendors included Seattle import specialist Pink Gorilla (which had plenty of import games at their booth, but strangely, no PS2 ones) and artbook localizer Udon, who shared space with comic book publisher Oni Press. There was also a booth selling general anime merchandise, but I was immediately turned off once I noticed that the Nendoroids and certain other items were bootlegs. Square Enix had Deus Ex: Human Revolution Play Arts Kai figures on display at their booth but, much to my dismay, the company wasn’t selling any of their collectables at the show.

Upstairs was a sort of annex to the main hall, where indie game publishers and lesser-known PC hardware manufacturers lived. This room saw a lot of traffic thanks in large part to the presence of Mojang, aka the Minecraft developer. Meanwhile, there was the Handheld Lounge, a land of beanbag chairs occupying hall space on two floors, and sponsored by Nintendo. Although Ninty had a large booth in the Expo Hall, they showed additional games here, including two upcoming Kirby games and Dragon Quest Monsters. Unfortunately, I had somehow forgotten to take photos of both areas.

I could go on, but to describe everything I saw would double the length of this post. Therefore, I’ll close out with brief impressions of the games I actually played.

Kirby Mass Attack for the DS is one of the most unique platformers I have seen in some time. The entire game is played with the stylus, and up to ten Kirbies can be controlled at once. These Kirbies are obtained by eating food found on the field (Maxim Tomatoes, as expected, are the “strongest” of these foods), and some areas can only be reached with a certain number of Kirbies. Though the game is being released very soon, the copies available for play in the Handheld Lounge were in Japanese. I guess the localization wasn’t ready for the show.

Kirby’s Return to Dream Land and Fortune Street were the only Wii games shown in the Handheld Lounge. The former supports up to four players at once and is as madcap as one expects from the studio that also makes the Smash Bros. games; unfortunately, the other characters aren’t as versatile or as necessary as Kirby, which is this game’s greatest weakness. Fortune Street is the first of the Itadaki Street games to be released outside of Japan, but I don’t think it will do very well since, for a board-style party games, it is way too complicated.

Pokedex 3D is neat, and I’ll probably download it once/if I get a 3DS. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 is about what I expected, which is to say I’m still planning on buying it.

At the Microsoft booth, I played around a little with Sonic CD, which thankfully has an option to turn on the original graphics, since the “new” ones look horrible. My husband and I also tried out Trine 2, which looks and plays very well, and Pinball FX 2 which is great save for the fact that the balls blend into the playfield a bit too much.

The main indie game I tried at the show was Path of Exile, a Diablo clone with not much to it. The user interface reminded me of Torchlight‘s, but having the health and mana meters on opposite sides of the screen was inconvenient.

That’s about it for the Expo Hall. In tomorrow’s post, I’ll talk about the panels and certain other events which I attended.


PAX Pix 2011, Part Zero: Swaggalicious

Got in from Seattle yesterday afternoon, and have been recovering ever since from that most awesome of festivals known as the Penny Arcade Expo. It was our first time going to “Prime”, which was much bigger than the inaugural edition of PAX East we attended last year.

This time around, I took a lot of photos, and now I have to sort through them all. In the meantime, though, check out all the swag and assorted promotional stuff I picked up over the weekend. This pic doesn’t include a few small items I was unable to locate at the time (such as an Angel Slime pin), nor any duplicates. Still, it’s a lot of stuff, and save for the Covenant Grunt plush, the UNSC bumper sticker, and the Video Game Orchestra CD (and the PAX and Halo Fest passes, of course), all of it was free. The League of Legends code is going to a friend, and some of the other items might be recycled or sold, but otherwise, I think I’ll hang on to much of it.

Over the next few days, I’ll post impressions of the show and games, and even more pics—including ones taken during panels, of the Expo Hall, of Halo Fest, and of the best Gordon Freeman cosplay ever. Stay tuned…


Me and Samus Aran

Metroid Prime was really good, if a little frustrating at times. The levels, very much including the in-between hallway bits, are incredibly varied, and the puzzles are genuinely interesting. Story bits are told via computer terminals and ruins, which can be scanned with a special visor; as such, there were very few cutscenes, which I liked. A lot of backtracking is required to collect all the doodads you need (and don’t), which got a little tedious at times, and at one point, I had to run to GameFAQs in order to progress (always a Bad Thing to me, though in this case, the solution was merely a little oblique instead of ludicrously buried, *cough*). Both enemies and environments require more elaborate battle tactics as the game wears on, which not only added to the difficulty but the variety. Also, the Wii controls for this first-person game are a dream come true, though I personally would’ve put the default jump control on the Nunchuck instead of the Wii Remote, similar to the Elebits scheme. I’m looking forward to playing the other two games in the Metroid Prime Trilogy set, though probably not right away, as my backlog is nearly all JRPGs again and I need, more than ever, action games to break things up.

Captain N isn't that kind of guy.

Metroid Prime was also my first Metroid game, believe it or not. However, thanks mainly to Nintendo and fandom, the game’s protagonist was already known to me, though I was not aware of much of the minutiae of her canon. Really, there aren’t too many hardcore gamers who don’t know of the bounty hunter Samus Aran, since, along with Lara Croft, she’s the most famous and iconic video game heroine out there. An important aspect of her is that she has traditionally been a silent protagonist in the games she appears in, much like Mario, Crono, and just about every main-series Dragon Quest and Pokemon hero. In fact, the only time I’ve seen her talk is in the old Nintendo Comics System books, where she is a calm/cool/collected hunter who macks on Captain N.

Recently, Metroid: Other M came out, featuring Team Ninja’s take on the character and her universe. I hadn’t really kept up with this game, but what reviews I’ve seen have been generally favorable. The one from the Onion AV Club got me wondering, though:

It might not sound like a big deal, but Other M focuses on Samus almost to the point of being a character study. In her many internal monologues throughout beautifully rendered cutscenes, the previously strong-and-silent Samus owns up to being petulant in her time with the Galactic Federation, to having misguided, unshakeable loyalties, and to dealing with daddy issues.

That didn’t sound like the Samus I (barely) knew. Turns out it was worse for a more experienced Metroid player at G4. I first heard about Abbie Heppe’s Other M critique via GJAIF, which quoted a Boing Boing article about the piece and its accompanying backlash. In summary, Heppe did not like the characterization of Samus, and took issue with the story itself; she also wasn’t satisfied with the control scheme and overall game design.

From what it sounds like, Samus was handled badly in Other M, and not just in the sense of a silent protagonist becoming chatty: Heppe logically points out as uncharacteristic Samus’ moments of fear when facing a certain enemy that’s a mainstay of the Metroid series. However, I believe this bit is just another fault of the overall approach as well. If I’m reading this right, it seems that Samus is a character whose thoughts and personality we didn’t know at all, but only interpret through what limited information we are given (sparse storylines and cutscenes, her equipment and enemies, etc.), with the rest up to us, the player. The Samus I saw in Metroid Prime was an independent and diligent explorer who seems not to care for the company of others. There’s doubtless many more interpretations of her out there (like her being a greedy and flirtatious sort, a la the Captain N story). An immature and doubtful Samus was not one I ever thought possible, especially not at the point in the canon that Other M takes place in.

Silent protagonists, especially ones that have been that way for as long as Samus has, must be handled carefully when given a voice and thoughts. I can only think of one other instance off the top of my head where a silent protagonist was given a significant personality injection, and the results were also inadequate; the Jak of Jak II was, unlike the original in Jak and Daxter, not someone I particularly liked. Mario might qualify, as he has been given voice in the past through cartoons and comics, but his in-game persona is still largely open to interpretation; at most, his speech is limited to very basic reactions (“uh-huh”, “no”, exclamations of surprise, etc.) and Italian gibberish.

Perhaps Samus should never have been given a personality in the first place, as that, traditionally, has been left up to the players to fill in for over twenty years. That lengthy time, and all the Metroid games filling it, have created many Samus Arans in the minds of uncountable numbers of gamers. Whittling down these many Samuses to one (and an apparently strange one at that) is a very dicey proposition at best. I hope the next Metroid allows us as gamers to once again see our own personal Samuses again.


At Kotaku, the Fireworks Come a Day Late

So I came home the night before last, exhausted. The next day, I caught up on internetty-type things. One of the sites I sifted through was Game Journalists Are Incompetent Fuckwits, a recent find and the best angry video game blog I’ve read since the deceased (and missed) Pre-Order Pushers. As usual, there’s a ton of stuff about Kotaku, including a link to a funny Something Awful parody, but little did I realize that a raging, gusty shitstorm was on the horizon. I’m still piecing together the entire story from GJAIF posts, Kotaku comments, and other places, but here’s what I’ve gathered:

• On the morning of July 5th, Kotaku EIC Brian Crecente posted an entry titled “This is Kotaku”. It’s an introductory article for newbies to the site, with links to articles, broken down by category, that serve as “a taste of what we do”. iambeaker on CAG later noted, in a thread titled “What is up with Kotaku?”, “I know many of the Gawker blogs place an article similar to this when a blog is featured on a major network (i.e. The Today Show) or when the blog is being sold (i.e. Consumerist).” FriskyTanuki replied: “That post is their response to the Game Journalists Are Incompetent Fuckwits blog that criticizes sites that post stupid articles or gets information completely wrong and Kotaku accounts for probably 60% of the blog’s content.” If that’s true, seems the post didn’t work.

According to GJAIF, “After Crecente posted the ‘This Is Kotaku’ article, there was a bit of a meltdown in the comments.” To say the least. Evidenced by the handful of comments still left on the post, many more were “disemvoweled” (the vowels were stripped from them) and later deleted (or at least, hidden from non-Kotakuites). One critical comment by lineypi—which I am unable to link to directly—stood out to me as I began putting this post together. I’m not sure if it is representative of its deleted brethren, but here it is in its entirety, in case it should disappear later on:

Just out of curiosity, but are the other Gawker sites doing something similar to this? I feel like there’d be a lot of overlap between things on here and things on Gizmodo (and a few of the other gawker sites) just based on this overview.

It would also be interesting to see these different things sorted into what you plan to post most about compared to what you see the least of.

At the moment the impression is that top of the list is what Kotaku has chosen to rank as the highest importance.

So for instance, you’ve got Sex really high on that list, but personally I don’t see sex & games as something intrinsically linked. Gawker has ..alternative.. sites for sex.

So the implication here is that Kotaku will have a sex article posted each day or something, but if that’s the case then I can see that driving away (the mature) gamers rather than attracting them.

I dunno, I just feel like with this summary list Kotaku isn’t really representing itself the way that I, as a visitor, experience it. And if this list is indicative of changes that are going around or about to occur, then I’m concerned that the experience will change.

PS – I’d also really like to see some sort of internal news that is purely a response to the mass banning/censorship that has recently occurred.

If there’s a way you can tag something so that it is only visible to registered members, or if you just use the internal messaging system, then I could see that being a solution that would answer a lot of the community’s questions without having something so off topic & purely internally focussed end up in your blog feed.

In the #speakup section of Kotaku, I found much more. In particular, the banning of a user named dean seems to have been a major flashpoint for the implosion. kanji08 goes into further detail about yesterday’s events in this comment.

• The conversation and arguments continued beyond Kotaku, spilling into a fan forum and Steam group. Again, GJAIF has more details regarding that, including a lengthy bit of chatlog from the Steam group, for which Kotaku writer Owen Good is present. GJAIF is later kicked out of the chat.

That’s about all for now. There’s still some fuzzy bits here and there, such as the precise role of certain individuals, and the nature of the deleted comments. It’s disconcerting how much has been covered up. I understand editors wanting to have a certain degree of control over their site, and I’m pretty neutral in my feelings toward Kotaku, but this is kind of nuts. It doesn’t seem like much is being written about this implosion right now, which is a shame; I’d like to see more. Something tells me that the meaning of “community” on Kotaku has just been considerably altered for its users, and it’ll be up to the Kotaku staff (and parent company Gawker) to decide what this means for everyone.


The Big Three E3 Press Conference Progress Report

Company: Microsoft
Unofficial Motto: Great, cutting-edge ideas ganked from other companies, without all that fussy “style” and “ease of use” nonsense.
Typical E3 Press Conference Methodology: Throwing lots of money around, making whatever’s on stage look slick and made-for-TV presentable by any means possible.
This Year’s Event Details: Kinect event with Cirque du Soleil, 06/13/10; press conference, 10:30am PST, 06/14/10
Did it Start on Time?: Yes
This Year’s Players: At the press conference specifically, there was Mark Lamia (Treyarch); Don Mattrick; Hideo Kojima and Shigenobu Matsuyama (Kojima Productions); Phil Spencer; Cliff Bleszinski (Epic); Peter Molyneux (Microsoft/Lionhead); Marcus Lehto (Bungie); Mark Whitten; Laura and her friend; Josh Elliott and Trey Wingo, the hosts of ESPN SportsCenter; Kudo Tsunoda; a little girl and Skittles the tiger; “Shin from Rare Studios”; Felicia Williams (Ubisoft); celebrity trainer Michael George; Naoko Takamoto, Alex Rigopulos, and Kasson Crooker (Harmonix); and Dan Greenwalt and Bill Giese (Turn 10). Whew!

CliffyB makes everything better.

Featured Hardware: Kinect, formerly known as Project Natal; a smaller, slimmer, shinier Xbox 360
Featured Games: Call of Duty: Black Ops; Metal Gear Solid: Rising; Gears of War 3; Fable III; a mysterious Crytek game called Codename: Kingdoms; Halo: Reach; several Kinect games with Wii, DS, and EyeToy analogues; a Kinect Star Wars game; and a version of Forza running with Kinect, now with more lifelike car porn!
Featured Features: Kinect’s features covered, including Minority Report menu navigation, video chat a la Skype, and voice control; Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7; ESPN on Xbox Live; the new 360 finally has built-in wi-fi.
Biggest Difference Compared to Last Year: Less of a reliance on mainstream celebrities.

Additional Notes: The structure of the press conference was pretty much unchanged from last year: open with a big, multiplatform title and follow it up with some Xbox-exclusive DLC-related announcement for it. Then, show something else multiplatform before going into the exclusive hardcore stuff before finally setting into Casual Land. Noticeably absent this time around were XBLA games, which is a shame considering that there are some interesting things coming down the pipe, but I suppose that that’s more of a hardcore thing, and since E3’s something of a mainstream showcase, not as important in Microsoft’s eyes.

As for Kinect: first off, it’s going to take awhile to get used to the new name, but at least it’s better than “Natal”; secondly, the launch lineup is about what I expected, coming from Microsoft. The Kinect hardware looks like a solid product, but that’s about all it looks like. So far, the software doesn’t transform it into anything special. If Just Dance hadn’t already existed, Dance Central might’ve been Kinect’s killer app. As it stands… we’ll see. Especially since Microsoft is being so cagey about Kinect’s price; so much so that one wasn’t mentioned during the press conference, even while a release date was.

*****

Company: Nintendo
Unofficial Motto: Simultaneously surprising and baffling people, simultaneously lifting the hearts of and infuriating fanboys, printing money, and just generally doing our own damn thing the best we know how for over a hundred years.
Typical E3 Press Conference Methodology: Sincere confidence mixed with the hope of acceptance, executives playing games on stage.
This Year’s Event Details: Press conference, 9am PST, 06/15/10
Did it Start on Time?: Yes
This Year’s Players: Reggie Fils-Aime, Shigeru Miyamoto, Bill Trinen, Warren Spector (Junction Point), Satoru Iwata, and dozens of women with 3DSes attached to them. About that last bit: if ever we needed absolute proof of the return of the “old E3″…

Featured Hardware: Nintendo 3DS
Featured Games: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Mario Sports Mix, Just Dance 2, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, GoldenEye, Epic Mickey, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Dragon Quest IX, Metroid: Other M, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kid Icarus Uprising, and a slew of big franchise name-drops for future 3DS titles, including Kingdom Hearts and Metal Gear Solid.
Featured Features: For the 3DS, an adjustment scale for the 3D effect, the two cameras on the outer case for taking 3D pictures, and the availability of 3D movies on the system, which seemed to me to be a rather pointed jab at Apple, specifically.
Biggest Difference Compared to Last Year: Reggie served as the ringmaster, instead of Cammie Dunaway.

Additional Notes: First off, I’m glad to have Reggie back in the driver’s seat. Cammie probably does a great job in her day-to-day work at Nintendo, but Reggie has a much better stage presence. Secondly, Nintendo was… impressive this year; so much so that all over the internet, hardcore gamers and press types are singing many praises about the 3DS, Zelda, and certain other things they showed. There are the usual spate of whiners complaining about the sole analog nub on the 3DS, just like they did with the original PSP, but such is to be expected.

As for my own thoughts? Zelda looked beautiful and interesting, though the glitchy stage demo was worrying; GoldenEye brought back memories, but I thought the graphics could’ve been better (yes, even “for the Wii”; look at what Capcom and Square Enix have managed to wring out of the system); I am sold on Epic Mickey; Kirby‘s style and very announcement filled me with joy; Reggie’s saying that DQIX comes out in “26 days” had me thinking, “Wow, that soon?!”; the trailer music for Metroid sent chills up my spine even though I’ve never played a game in that series; Donkey Kong Country Returns looks good on the surface, but I’m skeptical about its core; and I don’t have any strong opinions or feelings about the rest. Oh, and like many people, I’m looking forward to learning more about the 3DS, and eventually trying one out for myself.

Funniest bit about the Nintendo press conference: the Vitality Sensor that was introduced last year to much confusion was nowhere to be seen this time around… that is, if you don’t count the devices it inspired from EA and Ubisoft.

*****

Company: Sony
Unofficial Motto: You may hate 90% of our proprietary formats, but at least we make some awesome entertainment!
Typical E3 Press Conference Methodology: Montages, lots and lots of talking.
This Year’s Event Details: Press conference, 12pm PST, 06/15/10
Did it Start on Time?: Yes
This Year’s Players: Jack Tretton, Kazuo “Kaz” Hirai, hundreds of 3D glasses, Kevin Butler, new PSP pitchman Marcus, Alex Evans (Media Molecule), John Schappert and Greg Goodrich (EA), Gabe Newell (Valve), and David Jaffe and Scott Campbell (Eat Sleep Play).

I would've liked to have seen more of echochrome ii at Sony's press conference. Have a trailer instead.

Featured Hardware: PlayStation Move
Featured Games: Killzone 3; the Move-ready Sorcery, Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’11 (uhh…), and Heroes on the Move; InviZimals; God of War: Ghost of Sparta; Little Big Planet 2; Medal of Honor; Dead Space 2; Portal 2; Final Fantasy XIV; Mafia 2; Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood; Gran Turismo 5; Twisted Metal; and many, many more in the montages.
Featured Features: 3D gaming, via Killzone 3, and Move’s “1:1 movement”. A new, premium subscriber service for PSN called “PlayStation Plus”. The PS3 version of Portal 2 will have Steam integration, something which I was curious to hear more about, but not much else was said at the event.
Biggest Difference Compared to Last Year: Sony formally announced most all of their biggest stuff before the press conference, instead of risking leaks. (And even though Twisted Metal wasn’t one of these, rumors still abounded pre-show.)

Additional Notes: Sony conferences are… problematic for me. Two years ago, it was fascinating (in the same way a trainwreck is) because Final Fantasy XIII had just slipped from their exclusivity grasp. Last year came the much-anticipated Final Fantasy VII-on-PSN announcement, and my preoccupation with that tidbit, both on the FFVII Citadel site and in conversation with Citadel denizens, caused me to miss a lot. This year, a cousin called about three-quarters of the way in, and I was far too polite to ask them to call back later. The call went on until roughly the end of the press conference, and I had to catch up on Gran Turismo 5 and Twisted Metal details elsewhere.

This year’s press conference was kind of dull, as Sony’s tend to be. Sony lacks the Hollywood flash of Microsoft and the warm fuzzy nostalgia of Nintendo, and Tretton likes to drone on and on sometimes. Last year, charts made in LittleBigPlanet broke things up nicely. This year’s similar moments came courtesy of Sony spokesman Kevin Butler, and, in the most authentic moment from any of the three conferences, Gabe Newell, introduced with some help from GLaDOS.

One of the biggest surprises of Sony’s presser was the absence of a game: The Last Guardian. I was also half-expecting/hoping to see a Sly 4 announcement, what with The Sly Collection having been revealed the day before. Oh well, perhaps next year.


PAX East 2010, Part Three: The Final Countdown

And here’s the conclusion! This one was delayed since I was waiting for namatamiku to get his box of Cool Stuff. He should’ve received it by now, but I haven’t heard from him personally yet. Anyway, I have other posts I want to write and can’t wait any longer, so here’s Part Three in all its glory. Also, nama, if you haven’t done so already, open the box and check out the Cool Stuff before reading this post; not everything I sent you is mentioned here, but I would like to keep it all a surprise 😉

Read the rest of this entry »